Recognizing the Emotional and Behavioral Needs of Ethnic Minority Students in Hong Kong
By Heung, Vivian
The author presents an overview of special education services for students with special needs in Hong Kong. In addition, the author discusses placement policies for ethnic minority students.
KEY WORDS: emotional and behavioral difficulties, ethnic minority students, inclusive education, integration, special education
In Hong Kong, the issue of ethnicity and the needs of ethnie minority students are unique in many respects. For many years. Hong Kong appears to have enjoyed harmony in living with different ethnic groups, and few conflicts have been reported. One of the main reasons could be that the number of ethnic minorities living in Hong Kong has been very small. Even with the recent increase in South and Southeast Asian immigrants, non-Chinese minorities only constituted 5% of the population, according to the 2001 census statistics (Hong Kong Census & Statistics Department, 2001). In contrast, in some parts of North America, the percentage could be as high as 50% (Cuellar & Paniagua, 2000). Another reason that may account for less tension is that ethnic groups in Hong Kong have often been differentiated by social class. The Caucasian population, in general, belongs to the elite privileged class. Most of the other ethnic groups belong to a relatively lower social class, and they are less vocal about their needs.
Probably because of the small number and the fact that ethnic minority students tend to concentrate in a few Englishspeaking schools in Hong Kong, less public attention has been drawn to the educational needs of these students. In fact, the majority of mainstream schools have few students from ethnic backgrounds. It is unfortunate that this situation has given rise to a problem that has become more salient in recent years. Unlike North America, Hong Kong teachers do not have much experience in multicultural education. Strictly speaking, they have not been adequately prepared to meet the learning needs of students with diverse ethnic backgrounds (Yuen, 2002: Yuen, Choi, Lau-Chong, & Wong, 2000). The lack of experience has become more acute with changing demographics after 1997.
With the end of the colonial period in 1997, Hong Kong entered the transition to resumption of sovereignty by China. Changing demographics and new education reforms have brought new dimensions to the education of ethnic minority groups. At the same time, the Chinese population itself is also experiencing changes in culture. As a Chinese society under a long history of colonial rule, Hong Kong possesses features that may be different from those of China. This fostered an ethos that represents a departure from dominant Chinese values (Lau & Kuan, 1988). The dual nature of this ethos has been particularly salient with the advent of sovereignty retrocession (D.W. Chan, 1996). Selected types of schools that differ in the medium of instruction (English or Chinese), the social class composition, and other social and cultural features reflect the distinctive ethos. All in all, the broader social context and educational changes of post-1997 Hong Kong affect ethnic minority students. Coupled with the lack of knowledge and awareness of teachers in multicultural education, the classrooms in Hong Kong may not be able to meet the needs of students from ethnic backgrounds. Using Bronfenbrenner’s (1979) ecological model, these features may contribute as risk factors for problem behaviors of students. Furthermore, research has shown that the risk factors interact with the immediate environment and individual characteristics of the students and act in a cumulative manner (Atzaba-Poria, Pike, & Deater-Deckard, 2004). In this article, I explore how the needs of children and youths from different ethnic groups are being recognized in Hong Kong and discuss the services provided within the education system. To provide some background information, I begin with a brief review of the education policies for ethnic minority students in Hong Kong.
Placement Policies for Ethnic Minority Students
In 2001, 343,950 ethnic minorities, constituting 5.1% of the whole population, were living in Hong Kong (Hong Kong Census & Statistics Department, 2001). They comprised Filipinos (41.4%), Indonesians (14.7%), mixed (5.7%), British (5.5%), Indians (5.4%), Thais (4.2%), Japanese (4.1%), Nepaleses (3.7%), Pakistanis (3.2%), Americans/Canadian (2.7%), Australians/New Zealanders (2.0%), Koreans (1.5%), and others (5.9%). The majority of ethnic minorities were usual residents (99.0%) in Hong Kong; 3,271 (1.0%) were mobile residents.
School attendance rates for the ethnic minorities in the age groups 3-5, 17-18, and 19-24 years were 86.0%, 54.7%, and 3.7%, respectively; those for the whole population were 94.7%, 71.0%, and 26.4%. Among the ethnic minorities aged 5 years and older, English was the language spoken in 55.9% of the homes. This was followed by Cantonese (21.4%), Filipino (3.6%), Japanese (3.5%), Indonesian (2.3%), Putonghua (0.4%), other Chinese dialects (other than Cantonese and Putonghua, 0.4%), and others (12.5%; Hong Kong Census & Statistics Department, 2001). Based on these figures, it is clear that, although Hong Kong is predominantly a Chinese society, it is also multiethnic, multilingual, and multicultural. In addition, there are also many new arrivals from mainland China who are ethnically Chinese, but they do not share a common language and their school experience is often different from that of Hong Kong students.
In Hong Kong, preprimary education is provided for children between the ages of 3 and 5 years at kindergartens, which are privately run. The government provides free and universal education for all children between the ages of 6 and 15 years (Primary 1 to Secondary 3) at public schools. After the age of 15, students may continue to receive education (Secondary 4-7) at highly subsidized rates. There are two ways to apply for admission to Primary 1. First, there is a central allocation system that assigns places according to a random process but that also takes into consideration a number of factors, including language; applicants are asked to indicate whether they speak Chinese. Ethnic minority candidates who do not speak Chinese often are assigned places in schools that traditionally accept ethnic minority students (Loper, 2004). If there is no indication, the ethnic minority students are placed in local Chinese medium schools (i.e., schools that use Chinese as the medium of instruction) in their districts. The second way is to apply directly to individual schools. Under the “discretionary places admission” system, schools reserve a certain number of places that may be filled at the school’s discretion, usually according to a point system that gives preference to students whose parents or siblings have studied previously in the school (and other factors, such as religious and academic background of students).
Until 1998, the majority of secondary schools in Hong Kong used English as the medium of instruction. Because of the change to mother tongue teaching policy in 1998, there was a switch from English to Chinese in 307 secondary schools, and only 114 schools were allowed to continue to use English, resulting in a reduction in the number of secondary schools that ethnic minority students could attend. Evidence suggests that most ethnic minority students are relegated to a handful of “band three” (the lowest band) secondary schools that offer Hindi and Urdu language classes in Hong Kong (Loper, 2004).
In response to the problem of restricted choice of schools as well as the worldwide trend of inclusion, the government introduced a policy in 2005 to open mainstream schools to ethnic minority children. Under the new arrangement, more than 500 ethnic minority children preparing for admission to Primary 1 and secondary 1 classes will join the central allocation system and will be on equal footing with local students. Their choice of schools will not be restricted to the 7 to 10 non-Chinese-speaking schools as in the past, and more than 45% of ethnic minority children can go to mainstream schools (“EMB Impose,” 2004).
It is unfortunate that this new integration policy did not have the full support of the ethnic communities, mainly because of the concern that mainstream schools may not have adequate support or resources. A survey conducted by the Ethnic Minority Education Concern Group, set up in February 2004 by a group of South Asian parents, found that more than 80% of parents did not want to send their children to Chinese schools and that 56% of parents even said that they preferred to drop out from schools and wait for English- speaking schools (“Luck,” 2004). This new policy of integrating ethnic minority students in mainstream schools has hit on a long- standing problem in Hong Kong. It is high time that Hong Kong should look at the needs of these students and formulate appropriate strategies.
Definition and Perspective of Emotional and Behavioral Problems
How is a student defined as having emotional and behavioral problems in Hong Kong? Is there a different definition for ethnic minority students? A review of the definitions adopted at different times in the past 40 years shows that Hong \Kong has used the same definition for all children regardless of cultural background. Another salient feature is that, even for different periods, the definitions used tend to depict general descriptions that relate emotional and behavioral problems to adjustment difficulties, learning problems, and those requiring special services. There is no specific reference to ethnicity or particular problems or illnesses.
In the 1960s, the term maladjusted children was used, and it referred to children with adjustment difficulties that led to emotional disturbance and behavioral problems in families, schools, or other social settings (Curriculum Development Council, 1998). To serve this particular category of children, seven special schools have been established, and they were supervised by the Social Welfare Department until 1995. A large proportion of the children admitted also receive residential services.
In the early 1990s, the perception of “maladjustment” was that it was transient and did not result from impairment but arose from unsatisfactory relationships in school or at home (Working Party on Rehabilitation Policies and Services. 1995). Furthermore, the difficulties could be overcome if special help was provided. The policy responsibility has also been shifted, since 1995, from the Health Department to the Education Department of Hong Kong.
In the mid-1990s, the Hong Kong Review of Rehabilitation Programme Plan. 1994-1995 through 1998-1999 school years, gave a clear definition of maladjustment based on that used in the United Kingdom (Laslett, 1977). A maladjusted child was defined as “one whose behavioral and emotional difficulties, however caused, have prevented the child from benefiting from the ordinary social and educational experiences of home and school, and whose difficulties will persist unless help is given by those with appropriate skills” (Rehabilitation Division, 1996, p. 132). Maladjustment is not a clinical term indicating a precise diagnosis. Rather, it is a descriptive term for a child who is developing in ways that have a bad effect on the child or others and cannot be remedied by parents, teachers, and other adults in ordinary contact with him or her (Underwood Report of the Committee on Maladjusted Children. 1955, as cited in Curriculum Development Council, 1998).
In 1996. the Board of Education’s Subcommittee on Special Education reviewed the term maladjustment and its implications as compared with emotional and behavioral difficulties, used in other countries (Board of Education, 1996). The subcommittee was of the opinion that emotional and behavioral difficulties implies more deep- seated and intrinsic problems, whereas maladjusted behavior is transient and can be remedied. The subcommittee also felt that emotional and behavioral difficulties adds stigma to the special schools and recommended that they should be renamed special schools for personal and social development to emphasize the kind of curriculum designed for this type of student. Hong Kong’s definition can be criticized for being too general and lacking specificity. It stresses adjustment difficulties but does not deal with the varied causes for maladjustment. Also, it is not ethnically or culturally sensitive.
The different ethnic groups may not share the same value that most Chinese in Hong Kong place on education. Most Chinese in Hong Kong value conformity, discipline, excellence, and academic achievement. Education is highly regarded and is considered the most important route for upward social mobility (Lee, 1991). Some parents even consider that it is their life’s goal to see their children receive a good education. This explains why school attendance rates are so high in Hong Kong and the drop-out rate is low. Most teachers emphasize effort, and there is a general belief that diligence can compensate for stupidity (Cheng, 1997). Failure in schools is often attributed to laziness rather than to problems in ability (Cheng). Academic achievement is highly honored, and Hong Kong enjoys high prestige in terms of student achievements (e.g., Holbrook, 1989, 1990; Postlethwaite, 1988). Discipline in schools is seen as part of moral education and essential training for life. By the same token, moral education is regarded as a means for instilling the commonly shared values of society (Cheng). These dominant values mean that, in general, students, are expected to focus on their schoolwork and should work hard and behave well. It is only when they do not adjust or benefit from schools that a problem is perceived and special education is required.
It is problematic if the same definition is applied to ethnic minority students as it is not at all clear whether the Chinese values of education are shared by the ethnic groups. Also, this rather narrow concept of maladjustment does not match the complexity of school life in Hong Kong. Studying in Hong Kong is very demanding, and there are plenty of reasons for stress and maladjustment. The education system in Hong Kong is relatively monolithic, and students study in largely one type of school, following one type of curriculum. Competition is keen, and the notions of individual-based and student-centered teaching are slow to take root in Hong Kong schools (Cheng, 1997). The overall culture of schools is not easy for students to adapt to. Most of them find it stressful, particularly when they enter secondary schools. There is a growing concern that students in Hong Kong are becoming increasingly unruly, and discipline has been a problem. For students from different ethnic backgrounds, the competitive school life could make them more vulnerable to emotional and behavioral problems.
Common Problems of Ethnic Minority Students and Procedures for Identification
There has been more systematic study of the adaptation problems of ethnic minority students in Hong Kong since 1997 because of the rapid growth of new immigrants and more public awareness. The results of several studies revealed consistently that language has been the most important barrier for ethnic minority students (e.g., Loper, 2004; Yang Memorial Methodist Social Service, 2002). It affects seriously their participation in education and employment. Hong Kong’s report to the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights acknowledged that language is the core difficulty (Yang Memorial Methodist Social Service, 2002). In addition, the majority of ethnic minority students also suffer from problems in self-esteem, academic performance, and relationships with teachers and peers.
According to a study by the Yang Memorial Methodist Social Service (2000), the main problems encountered by the majority of South Asian youths were a lack of enrollment in school, language barriers, and adaptation problems. Because of language barriers, more than half of the South Asian youths surveyed experienced difficulties in adapting to school life, making friends, and searching for support services. A recent comparative study of new immigrants from China and South Asia (Unison Hong Kong, 2001) found that, because of language barriers, South Asian immigrants in Primary 5 and 6 classes (aged 11-12 years) had lower self-esteem and academic performance and poorer relationships with teachers and peers than their Chinese counterparts.
As for secondary school students, the Yang Memorial Methodist Social Service (2002) surveyed 359 ethnic minority students of secondary 3 and 5 classes (aged 15-17 years) about their views of their future, including participation in further education and employment in Hong Kong. More than half of the youths interviewed expressed that they were restricted by their inability to communicate in Chinese, discrimination, and biases toward their ability.
A study by Unison Hong Kong (2003) found that even South Asian youths born in Hong Kong could not overcome the language barrier. A study of the Pakistani immigrants found that 70.1% of youths experienced difficulties because they did not know Cantonese, Chinese, or English (Ku, Chan, Chan, & Lee, 2003). Yau and Lam (2004) suggested that the language problem was caused mainly by the fact that ethnic minority students have not been integrated in mainstream schools and have no opportunity to immerse themselves in the local language.
Loper (2004) found that the ability to use Chinese language also affects ethnic minority students’ access to tertiary education in Hong Kong. The government observed in its first and second reports to the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights that most tertiary institutions require advanced-level (matriculation) passing grades in Chinese and English, although some accommodation is made for non-Chinese speakers. According to the admission requirements posted on university Web sites (e.g., Chinese University of Hong Kong, 2004), language requirements appear to be common. There is no specific information regarding flexible requirements for ethnic minority students.
In view of the difficulties of ethnic minority students in learning Chinese, a number of schools that take large numbers of these students have started to work cooperatively on the development of a Chinese curriculum. The vision is to provide an articulated 11- year curriculum for ethnic minority students. It can be considered as an initiative to provide more equitable access to the curriculum. It is matched with a recent government announcement to provide the British Certificate of Education with Chinese curriculum for students who have difficulty with the Chinese component of the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination (HKCEE; Loper, 2004).
With regard to identification procedure, most schools rely on the observations of teachers and parents. Ethnic minority students exhibiting severe and persistent emotional and behavior problems are referred by teachers to the school guidance teacher or school social worker, wh\o are based in schools. If either worker cannot provide appropriate help, the student is referred to the special education services centers of the Education and Manpower Bureau for assessment and further referral. The bureau refers the student to special schools or special education services.
Overall Structure of Special Education and Mental Health Services
Similar to North America and Europe, special education services in Hong Kong were first started by missionaries and philanthropic organizations in the early 1900s. Volunteer and charitable organizations played a major role in building special schools and residential facilities (Yung, 1996). In the 1960s, the government became more actively involved with the establishment of the Special Education section within the Education Department (Board of Education, 1996). There has recently been some restructuring in the responsibility within the Education Department, and the department is now called the Education and Manpower Bureau (EMB). EMB assumes the overall responsibilities for the planning, developing, monitoring, and operating of all special education facilities in Hong Kong. It advises on organization, curricula, teaching methods, and educational placement. It is clear that the government plays an important role in special education.
There is also a government policy on determining who is eligible for service, what kind of services will be provided, and the concept of integration. According to the government, the aim of special education in Hong Kong is to provide education for children with special needs to help them develop their full potential (EMB, 2004b). A child is considered to have special needs if he or she has a learning difficulty or a disability that either prevents or hinders use of educational facilities generally provided in schools. The education of these children is basically in line with that provided for ordinary children. Although the educational goals are the same, the means by which they are realized differ, and special provisions, techniques, and facilities are required (EMB, 2004a). This concept implies that integration is the goal of special education. In fact, the official policy of Hong Kong since the 1970s has been integration, but, in reality, the number of segregated provisions has continued to expand. The first report of the Education Commission (Marsh & Sampson, 1963) stated that handicapped children should receive as normal a form of education as possible. The 1968 annual report of the education department (Education Department. 1968) reiterated this philosophy of integration. The 1977 report titled Integrating the Disabled Into the Community: A United Effort formally recommended that disabled children be encouraged to receive education in ordinary schools (Education Department, 1981). However, this 1977 report further recommended that for those children who cannot benefit from education in an ordinary school because of their disabilities, special schools and classes, resource classes, and peripatetic services should be provided. Under such a policy, segregated special education services expanded rapidly between the 1960s and 1980s, particularly after the implementation of 6 years of compulsory education in 1971.
There have been attempts to reverse the expansion of special classes. The Working Party Report on Secondary Special Classes (Education Department, 1981) recommended the closure of special classes for maladjusted pupils, slow learners, and the mildly mentally handicapped and that these classes that be replaced by an intensive remedial service (IRS) program in ordinary schools. This IRS was subsequently replaced by the “school-based remedial support programme” in 1990 to cater to the bottom 10% of students with special needs (Education Commission, 1990). At the same time, two new types of special schools were recommended: (a) “skills opportunity schools” for approximately 2,400 secondary students with severe learning problems, and (b) “practical schools” for approximately 450 unmotivated secondary school students. These schools offered a core secondary curriculum supplemented by practical and technical subjects to support students’ diverse needs. In 2004, because of the worldwide trend of inclusion, all of the practical schools were redesignated as mainstreamed schools. The skills opportunity schools were scheduled to be phased out during the 2004-2005 and 2005-2006 school years.
After 1997, the government reaffirmed the policy on integration with the launch of a 2-year pilot project on integration. By 2003, 117 secondary and primary schools out of a total of 1,200 schools joined the integration project, and more than 730 students with disabilities had been integrated. The project was replaced by a new funding model in 2004. This new funding model aims to provide schools with flexible funding to adopt a whole-school approach to support every student with learning difficulties or special needs in the school. It is evident that Hong Kong is gradually moving toward greater inclusion. The present policy aims at placing children with special educational needs, whenever possible, in ordinary schools so that they receive the fullest benefit of education from mixing and interacting with ordinary children in an ordinary environment (EMB, 2004a). Effective schools are educationally inclusive schools. At the same time, special schools and special education services are still maintained for those in need.
Currently, there are 65 special schools in Hong Kong, including 2 schools for visually impaired children, 4 schools for hearing- impaired children, 7 schools for children with physical disabilities, 7 schools for social development (for maladjusted children), 41 schools for children with intellectual disabilities, 1 hospital school that holds classes at 17 hospitals, and 3 skills opportunity schools. The class size of special schools and special classes in Hong Kong ranges from 8 to 20 students per class, and the staffing ratio ranges from 1 to 1.5 teachers per class. Although the age of admission to a special school is 6 years, children are admitted to some categories of special schools at 4 years of age. To allow sufficient time for students to reach an adequate standard of education, students in secondary classes may be allowed to remain longer at school on the basis of their individual needs. In 2002, the “Extension of Years of Education Programme” was introduced to schools for children with intellectual disabilities and physical disabilities (EMB, 2004a).
The curriculum for special schools is based on the mainstream curriculum. On the principle of one curriculum framework for all, the special schools make adaptations in the key learning areas to cater to children’s educational needs.
Special Education Classes
In 2004, there were 711 special education classes in ordinary schools-3 were for children with visual impairments, and 708 were intensive remedial teaching programs for children with learning difficulties.
Assessment and Remedial Services
Assessment and follow-up services are provided by the EMB in two special education services centers. Assessment services include psychological, social, and educational assessment for children with learning or behavior problems, speech and language assessment for children suspected of having speech and language impairments, and educational audiological review for children suspected of having hearing problems. There are also observational checklists and guides for teachers to detect children with speech problems and learning difficulties for follow-up services and treatment.
Remedial services offered include educational audiological services for children with hearing impairment, school-based speech therapy supportive programs for students with speech and language impairments, guidance and teaching assistance to children with learning or behavior problems, educational placement, and advice and professional support to parents and teachers on how to manage children with disabilities. A peripatetic and resource teaching service is provided to children with special educational needs attending ordinary classes.
Mental Health and Other Services
EMB coordinates with other government departments in providing mental health services to children. It cooperates with the Hospital Authority and the Department of Health in the referral and assessment of children through medical social workers and doctors. Close coordination is maintained with the Social Welfare Department, the Vocational Training Council, and other nongovernmental organizations in making referrals for welfare assistance and postschool placement. The Vocational Training Council supervises vocational training and technical education for children with special educational needs, and the Selective Placement Division of the Labour Department is responsible for a centralized employment service for school dropouts and adults with disabilities.
Unique Features of Services for Children With Emotional and Behavioral Problems
The government of Hong Kong has been criticized for lacking a specific service policy for ethnic minority students. Some of the services provided for students in Hong Kong may not meet the specific needs of ethnic minority students. The survey by the Board of Education (1996) showed that children in Hong Kong had a range of emotional and behavioral problems (e.g., withdrawn and moody behavior, inability to control emotions and impulses, acts of violence, abscondance from home, gang or pseudotriad involvement, stealing or shoplifting). There are services targeted at different levels of intervention. For children with mild behavioral problems or adjustment difficulties who are integrated in ordinary schools, additional help is given through adjustment units operated by the EMB as part of the remedial services in the mainstream. However, if the problems of the children aresevere or complex, education in special schools is provided. There are also boys’ or girls’ homes run by the Social Welfare Department for children under care and hospital services at psychiatric units.
The provision of educational services for children with emotional and behavioral problems is based on the rationale that these problems are generally transient and can be overcome if special help is provided. The overall objective is to support maladjusted children’s integration in ordinary schools whenever possible or, if a segregated setting is required, help them return to the mainstream as soon as possible (Board of Education, 1996).
At present, there are 7 special schools providing 900 places total for maladjusted children (5 schools providing 720 places for boys and 2 schools with 180 places for girls). Residential care facilities supervised by the Social Welfare Department are attached to some of these schools. They provide daily care and basic education for children with behavioral problems or underprivileged children who could not be adequately looked after by their families.
Most teachers believe that students with emotional and behavioral problems will benefit from suitable teaching styles and effective learning activities that are carefully designed to address their needs. The special schools aim to provide a range of learning programs or activities for the promotion of personal and social development and betterment of the students’ social integration, parent-child relationships, and home-school cooperation. Many special schools have an educational psychologist or visiting clinical psychologist to provide professional assessment and to coordinate education programs. Many special schools have recently introduced transition programs for students who are temporarily withdrawn from their original schools because of behavioral problems.
Other Services for Ethnic Minority Students
The government has recently attempted to provide a broad range of services that benefit not only the ethnic minority students but also their families. In 2002, a Committee on the Promotion of Racial Harmony (Loper, 2004) was established to advise the government on racial issues. As mentioned earlier, a new school placement policy was introduced to open mainstream schools for these students. In addition, there are adaptation courses and preemployment training programs.
Induction program. This 60-hour program was established in 1995 for mainland Chinese immigrants but was extended to other new arrivals in 2000. Subsidized by the EMB, this program aims to help new immigrants adapt to the local environment and education system. Contents of the program include learning Chinese and English, personal development, social adaptation, and basic learning skills.
School-based support scheme grants (SBSS). The SBSS is a block grant given to schools for each non-Chinese-speaking student in attendance. At the discretion of the school, this grant can be used to provide extra language classes and adaptation programs for students.
Initiation program. This is a 6-month, full-time, alternative program for newly arrived non-Chinese-speaking children. They can choose to attend this program prior to attending mainstream schools, and the EMB helps place them in suitable schools on completion of the program. The program aims to provide children with learning experience in the local classroom context, enhance their standards in English and Chinese, and foster their personal development and social adaptation.
Special education services. Special education services for non- Chinese-speaking children include psychological, audiological, and speech assessment; speech therapy treatment; speech and auditory training for hearing-impaired children; and referral to medical specialists, if required.
Information booklet. To ensure that information reaches ethnic minority families, the newly published Your Guide to Services in Hong Kong is now available in a number of languages common to ethnic minority communities (EMB, 2004b).
Challenges in Accessing the Curriculum
It is clear that the needs of ethnic minority students in Hong Kong go far beyond the induction programs or special education services. Many ethnic minority students cannot even gain access to schools or the mainstream curriculum. The case study of Loper (2004) on 14 students, parents, and relatives from Nepalese, Indian, Pakistani, and Filipino communities living in Hong Kong highlighted the main challenges: (a) limited choice of schools, (b) shortage of opportunities to learn Chinese, (c) relatively low quality of available education institutions, (d) difficulty in obtaining information about the education system, and (e) lack of interaction with Chinese students. Although Hong Kong is a signatory of the International Covenant on Cultural and Political Rights, ethnic minority students do not have full access to schools and the curriculum.
The study by Ho (2001) on Muslim students raised another dimension. Because of recent government policy on urban renewal, many ethnic minorities were forced to move from Hong Kong and Kowloon to settle in some new satellite towns. The policy was done without fully catering to students’ needs, including access to public schools. New groups of largely Muslim families are of low socio-economic status, and most cannot afford to send their children to private schools. It can be said that ethnicity and social class intersected here and put the ethnic minority children in a disadvantaged position. One response to this disadvantage was an attempt by community groups to establish a low-fee private school:
The initial momentum started from the compassion felt in seeing the miserable condition of ethnic children. Non-Chinese speaking Muslim children were wandering around and out of school and their parents’ appeal of any Islamic education went unheeded. (Ho, p. 70)
The United Muslim Association of Hong Kong established a school to try to meet the needs of the disadvantaged children. Teachers were imported from such countries as Pakistan, India, the Philippines, Nepal, and Ghana. The school tries to follow local school curriculum standards and also tries to provide a broader curriculum similar to other international schools.
Important questions are the following: Is multicultural education possible in Hong Kong? Do Hong Kong residents really accommodate the ethnic differently in their lives? Do mainstream school teachers recognize diversity and the implications for teaching and learning?
Despite its colonial political background, the education system of Hong Kong has been monocultural. There is a danger of insensitivity of teachers toward multicultural education, which may affect student failure and teaching ineffectiveness. The recent changes in student population and the impact on classroom management (Leung & Ho, 1998), language switching, and student-student interaction (K. Chan. 1998) have made the problem more salient. Ethnicity and diversity of any kind demand a response in the curriculum, approaches to teaching, and assessment to ensure that the needs of all students are met. It is up to teachers to identify those students who will not benefit from a common approach to curriculum and to cater to them in ways that will enhance their learning. There is an urgent need to provide professional support to teachers in cross-cultural teaching in Hong Kong. Hong Kong should reconsider the goal of education in light of Banks’s (1997, 2001) argument that multicultural education means education for all. It should foster educational equality and respect the diverse nature of students’ ethnicities and abilities.
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Vivian Heung is a senior lecturer of special education at the Hong Kong Institute of Education and head of the Centre for Special Needs and Studies in Inclusive Education. Copyright 2006 Heldref Publications
Copyright Heldref Publications Winter 2006